While the San Jose regularly ranks as one of this country’s most diverse major metros, the “Capital of Silicon Valley” has long suffered from a lack of color. As Mercury News columnist Sal Pizarro recently noted, one of the city’s least-flattering nicknames says it all. “The colors of so many downtown buildings are drab and boring, so much so that I’ve heard the city called ‘Tan Jose,’” he wrote on Jun. 17. “And not because of all the sunshine.”

Working closely with the Knight Foundation and the San Jose Downtown Association, the nonprofit Exhibition District aims to change that. Led by local artist Erin Salazar, the collective of more than 40 artists are working to create a more colorful San Jose.

There was a time when the act of painting a public wall with anything other than a solid color or the name of a business would have been considered “graffiti” or downright vandalism—evidence of a neighborhood in decline. More and more, however, this practice is becoming a sign of a community’s vibrancy and creative potential.

Reports from the front lines of the burgeoning mural movement suggest public art helps to foster a sense identity and belonging in a city. The Exhibition District’s active goal is to make San Jose a “cultural destination” in Silicon Valley by providing professional wages to artist and other creatives who dedicate their time and skills to the cause.

The nonprofit’s projects include the beautiful new look of Fountain Alley (pictured above) and the mural painted on the side of S. Second Street side of The Tech Shop—near the intersection of S. Second and San Carlos streets. Exhibition District artist can commonly be found at events around the city, including South First Fridays art walks, the annual SoFA Street Fair, the SubZERO Festival and at local art galleries.

By 2020 the Exhibition District hopes to cover 40,000 square feet of khaki building facades with high quality street art.